If you haven’t already started your seeds for this year’s garden, now is the time! With a few basic supplies and careful attention, you can start your entire garden’s worth of plants and save on the expense of buying plant starts. It is not difficult! Sourcing high-quality seeds is the most important step.
If you’re into heirloom plants, some of the preeminent non-GMO seed sources are:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. www.rareseeds.com
This is an extraordinarily beautiful website and catalog that is a vision for the eyes. The seeds they offer have been found on explorations all over the world and will produce tasty and beautiful crops. They offer nearly 2,000 varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs.
Seeds of Change www.seedsofchange.com
Since 1989 this source has been providing certified organic GMO-free seed from growers in the US. Their reputation helped spur the organic vegetable growing movement.
Heirloom Seeds www.heirloomseeds.com
This company’s priority is to sell old fashioned vegetable seed noted for their taste. All seeds are open pollinated varieties that have been saved for many generations.
Vegetable Seed Warehouse www.vegetableseedwarehouse.com
If you have a small garden or are new to veggie gardening and want a large variety of veggies, these guys sell a variety pack and individual plant selections that might be right for you. Their seeds will provide a delicious harvest all season long.
Timing is everything when starting seeds. If you start too early, you won’t be able to plant outdoors when the seeds have sprouted and need to be planted outdoors. You should know from experience when the danger of frost is over in your area. If not, you can check with your local nursery, the Farmer’s Almanac, or from neighbors who grow for your farmers market. Most veggie plants require 6-8 weeks from sprouting to transplanting outdoors.
A loose well-drained seed starting mix will help ensure success. A combination of sand, potting soil with vermiculite, and a sprinkling of microbial powder (Vital Roots Soluble Mycorrhizal Fungi*) is the right formula for success. This will allow the roots to penetrate and spread easily in their small starting container. There are ready to use bagged planting mix soils that are available at your local nursery or big box store. There are plenty of organic mixes to choose from, look for ones that contain sandy loam, earthworm castings, peat, and bat guano. Then add the mycorrhizal fungi!
The type of seed starting container is essential. If you’ve been collecting small plastic plant containers, you have a great head start. Purchasing seed starting trays that will hold the small starting pots is a good idea. There are some trays to hold all the individual small pots with drainage for use in a hothouse or greenhouse. For inside your home, there are some that are solid to catch the water that drains thru the individual pots. Some are narrow enough to fit on a window sill or bench (or small step ladder) to be placed in front of a south-facing window. Covering the seed trays with clear plastic seed tray covers will aid germination by retaining moisture. Be generous when planting the seeds by putting more than one in each container and pinch out the weaker ones. Plant the seeds to a depth that is 3x the width of their diameter. In 4-6 weeks, they should be ready to plant outside.
Using LED grow lights can be advantageous especially if your windows don’t have at least 6-8 hours of southern exposure or if you live in a cold climate. You will want a compact light that is easy to maneuver and hang that boasts full-spectrum light that plants need. I recommend a brand called “HIGROW” that is affordable, effective, and easy to use.
Here at Dripworks where winter mornings are quite cold, we successfully start our seeds on heat mats in a small Solexx outdoor greenhouse that gets ample light. Here heat mats are a great investment and end up heating the entire greenhouse to a comfortable temperature that is regulated by a thermostat.
After planting the seeds in a container, you’ll add a small amount of water to the seed trays or containers. After that add moisture with a hand mister (using warm water) each day, cover until the seeds sprout and the plants are 3-4” tall. You may want to hook up an electric fan nearby to provide good air circulation and prevent fungal diseases once the tiny plants are uncovered. Using a fertilizer in your mister to foliar feed will help them be healthy. Use a light dose of compost tea or commercial fertilizer tea when watering.
*Vital Roots Soluble Mycorrhizal Fungi, a fantastic natural additive. The benefits of using soluble mycorrhizal fungi powder on the roots of new plants or adding to the soil cannot be overstated. The symbiotic relationship between these powdery microbes (mycos) and the roots (rhiza) of the plants will have the following dramatic effects.
- Provides nutrients that are in your soil to the plant roots
- Enhances plant efficiency in absorbing water and nutrients
- Enhances plant growth, health, and stress resistance
- Enhances seedling growth and rooting of cuttings
Apply directly to the soil during transplanting or add to compost tea to enhance root growth and the absorption of nutrients in the soil.
Place the plant starts outdoors out of direct sun for a few hours each day to harden them off before planting them in your garden. After 5-7 days the plants should be ready for the garden.
Remember, be curious when selecting seed. There are thousands of options to be had from the catalogs and websites mentioned at the beginning of this article. Plant some new varieties each year to add to the biodiversity our world so desperately needs.